What really got up Ahern’s goat?

December 1, 2007 at 5:20 pm Leave a comment

During the no confidence motion in Bertie Ahern a few weeks back, Fine Gael newbie Leo Varadkar made some comments which infuriated An Taoiseach. Normally Ahern is fairly sanguine about attacks from the opposition and doesn’t dwell on them publicly. However on this occasion, when Ahern was interview on the radio the following day he made comments to the effect that with luck Varadkar wouldn’t last a wet week in the Dáil.

That Ahern reacted in such a way was noteworthy enough for even the sober citizens of the Cedar Lounge Revolution to pick up on the issue and have a cut at the newbie from Dublin West.

So what comments were made?

Deputy Leo Varadkar: I wish to share time with Deputies Sheehan and Creed.
This debate is not about the Government’s record on Northern Ireland, the economy, the health service, transport and the environment. It is not about the personal affairs of the Taoiseach, Deputy Bertie Ahern, despite his attempts to bring family problems into the debate at every possible opportunity afforded by RTE but not by the tribunal.

Deputy Dermot Ahern: Following in the footsteps of gutter Fine Gael.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: This is about low standards and credibility. Politicians should not take money for personal benefit from wealthy people. I do not know why the Taoiseach took the money. I do not know if the reason he took money in Manchester was that some of them were the Manchester investors in the casino project in my constituency. I do not know why the Taoiseach took money from Mr. Michael Wall, a private bus operator looking for bus services to be deregulated in this country. I would like to know because I do not accept the reasons provided.
What the Taoiseach has done is no different from what Mr. Liam Lawlor, Mr. Charles Haughey, Deputy Lowry and former Deputy Ray Burke did. In none of those cases do we have documentary evidence of corruption. The reason they are discredited, disgraced and removed from office is they behaved in an inappropriate manner by receiving large sums from private individuals for personal gain. The same standards should be applied to the Taoiseach. Just because he is Head of the Government does not mean lower standards should be applied. By any international standard, he would no longer be Head of the Government. In Germany Ministers resign when they keep frequent flyer points accrued on Government flights. In Britain Ministers resign for accepting undeclared loans. In the United Kingdom the Taoiseach would not be fit to be a member of a county council. He is certainly not fit to be a candidate for the Fine Gael Party.

Deputy Lucinda Creighton: Hear, hear.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Regarding credibility, most people in the State do not believe the Taoiseach’s assertions about his finances. A journalist in the Sunday Independent wrote that if there was a simple explanation, we would have heard it some time ago.

Deputy Simon Coveney: Was that Deputy O’Dea?

Deputy Leo Varadkar Nobody believes the Taoiseach’s story. Privately, most of those on the Government benches do not believe it. Nobody believes the Taoiseach did not have a bank account. The only reason he did not have a bank account in that period is worrying and sinister. Nobody believes his claim that the dig-out came from friends. Even Mr. Padraic O’Connor of NCB Stockbrokers, for example, denies that he is the Taoiseach’s friend and stated the money was given to Fianna Fáil. Nobody believes the money the Taoiseach received was for the refurbishment of a new house. Nobody believes the Taoiseach did not deal in dollars. Nobody believes the 24 people in Manchester were his friends. The Taoiseach claims that they were but cannot name them. Nobody believes the Taoiseach, his partner at the time and the bankers forgot to count the money.

History will judge the Taoiseach with more sophistication than the Sunday newspapers or Senator Harris.

Deputy Dermot Ahern: The people judged him on 24 May, which Fine Gael keep forgetting.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: History will judge him and, in some ways, as a successful Taoiseach. It will also judge his years as Taoiseach as a lost opportunity to achieve great things done in other booms such as the Adenauer years in Germany or the post-war years in America.

Deputy Willie O’Dea: We will see what Deputy Varadkar achieves.

Deputy Leo Varadkar: Sadly, this dark affair will darken the Taoiseach’s record in the same way as Tony Blair’s involvement in Iraq or Bill Clinton’s corruption and personal scandals darkened theirs. History will judge the Taoiseach as being both devious and cunning, in the words of his mentor, master and, clearly, role model.

Well, the consensus at the time was that Ahern took umbrage at fairly innocuous remarks about the poor legacy Clinton and Blair left behind them (at least, as viewed in some quarters). I wouldn’t agree with Varadkar’s comments with regard to those two fine politicians, but they were hardly lacerating. Certainly, not something that would be bothering Ahern the next day and not something which would explain his bitterness.

However in light of recent tribunal developments about the National Lottery, US Dollars donations and developments at the Phoenix Park racecourse, the ire Varadkar rose may have more to do with comments relating to what Varadkar didn’t know. Namely “I do not know if the reason he took money in Manchester was that some of them were the Manchester investors in the casino project in my constituency.”

As Varadkar remarks in his comments, ministers resign for far less infractions in other states than here. A similiar comment could be made about the Irish media. In other states they don’t need tribunals to do all the investigative work into these issues ten years after the fact. Why? Because they have investigative journalists funded by a responsible media. Unfortunately for us, with the exception of one or two brave souls we don’t have such pioneers operating in this state. And the quality of Irish democratic life will continue to suffer.

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Entry filed under: Bertie Ahern, dail, Fianna Fail, irish politics, Mahon Tribunal.

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